Dog Days and Cat Nights of Summer

Please note the publication date of this article. Statistics and seasonal information were accurate at the time of publication. Check links provided for the most current information.

By Larry D. Hodge

Published in Lone Star Outdoor News, August 22, 2006

When summer temperatures soar to triple digits and it seems every resident of large cities is seeking relief by heading to area lakes with boat or jet ski, some anglers put up their fishing rods and wait for cooler weather to return.

But the dog days of summer bring with them cat nights—catfish nights when the action can be as hot as the daytime highs.
John Gilbert lives on the shores of Lake Travis northwest of Austin, and summer nights are one of his favorite times to go fishing. “When the sun goes down, the boat traffic goes away, and the catfish move into the shallows to feed,” he says. “You can’t believe how shallow they are—maybe in six inches to a foot of water. It’s so shallow they jump like a bass when you catch them—the only way they have to go is up.”

Recently Gilbert showed me how to catch cats prowling by moonlight. “I like to fish the side of a point where the wind is pushing water onto the bank,” he says. “I think that’s where the food is the shad are eating, and the catfish follow the shad.” Gilbert also fishes sandbars exposed by dropping lake levels. He baits several areas with soured wheat and fishes them in rotation.

Gilbert cast nets his own shad for bait, freezing them in plastic bags for future use. He uses a large, single, snelled hook with a 12-inch leader attached to the main line with a swivel. Above the swivel is a sliding weight. He threads the shad onto the hook somewhat like a worm, hooking it first through the head and then the tail to make it stay on the hook better. Even though he fishes on the bottom, he sometimes uses a lighted cork as a bite indicator, placing it high enough above the weight that it floats freely. When a fish takes the bait, the cork may just bob in the water a bit or move to one side, and that’s when Gilbert sets the hook with a mighty sweep of the rod.

Fishing during the week of a July full moon, we found the action slow until after moonrise. We caught a few undersized and barely legal channel and blue cats just after sunset, but it seemed the bigger fish moved in after the moon had been up half an hour or so. In addition to the channels and blues, we each caught a freshwater drum, and on the second night longnose gar began stealing our baits about midnight.

“The fish seem to have places where they travel,” Gilbert says. “You may not get a bite in one place, and three feet away, you’ll catch one fish after another.” That’s why he usually fishes with two rods, one off each side of the boat, until he finds the fish. Because the bite is often subtle and hooksets need to be made quickly, he holds both rods rather than using rod holders.

Gilbert’s tactics will work in any lake with shallows near the bank that drop off quickly into deeper water. One of his friends uses similar methods on Lake Tawakoni but prefers grasshoppers for bait. Lake Travis has been stocked with both channel cats and blues, while Tawakoni has been stocked with blues only. Both were stocked long enough ago—Travis in the 1970s and Tawakoni in 1989—that there are some sizeable fish as well as good numbers of eating-size ones.

When night fishing, be sure to follow all regulations regarding lights, wear your life preserver at all times, and take a hand-held spotlight to aid in navigation.

Fishing for cats at night can put some tasty eating in the freezer. Better yet, it leaves your days free for swimming, sailing, or jet-skiing. After all, it’s summer, and fishing at night lets you join in the fun and have your fishing, too.


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